Allison Robertson can finally throw away her fake ID. Six months ago she became the last member of the Donnas to turn twenty-one. So how does the fleet-fingered guitarist of America’s reigning rock & roll queens celebrate that hallowed right of passage? Accompanied by band mates and friends, Robertson started her celebration at a Mexican restaurant, then returned home for gifts and cake. When it came time to hit the bar, she and her entourage chose the Melody Room, an unsuspecting little tavern located at the back of an East Bay strip mall. But they soon realized the mostly blue-haired crowd and jazz band installed there that night just wasn’t their scene: “After awhile we realized it was just too wild in there, too many wild old people.”
Yikes! That’s hardly the bacchanalian birthday bash one would expect from the Donnas. After all, songs like “Rock ‘N’ Roll Machine” and “Checkin’ It Out” promised a world where there were two boys for every girl, partygoers huffed all night and parental guidance was strongly discouraged. Has adulthood finally put an end to the pursuit of teenage kicks?
“I feel sometimes we have people fooled, because part of the Donnas is that it’s larger than life and it has nothing to do with what we’re like in person,” Robertson says. “It’s not totally fake — a lot of the songs we write are from ideas we get on tour, or from someone really dumping you. But we exaggerate everything and we know we do.”
Real or not, when the Donnas delivered the one-two punch of ’98’s American Teenage Rock ‘N’ Roll Machine and ’99’s Get Skintight, their on-record lust for a good time brought some much-needed mischief to a musical landscape populated by self-absorbed wimps. But the perfectly packaged B-movie rebellion proved too much for some egg-headed critics to swallow and they started looking beyond the matching Donnas T-shirts and girl-gang stance for the svengali who was pulling the strings. Though the band admitted early on to co-writing some songs with a man, some people are still trying to uncover the conspiracy.
“People still like to bring it up like nobody’s ever heard it before,” she says. “I read all kinds of things where [the writer] just wants to show the reader they have us all figured out and we’re not fooling them.”
If anyone really wants to figure the Donnas out, all they have to do is listen to the band’s new album The Donnas Turn 21. Packed with scorching guitar riffs and driving bass lines, the album clearly traces their reason-to-rock back to Kiss and MTV’s hair-conscious headbangers.
“We were hoping the last album would be more hard rock,” Robertson says, “but it was a like a push-and-pull problem where [producers Jeff and Steve McDonald of Redd Kross] were constantly trying to make it more poppy — turn the vocals up, turn the drums down, turn the guitars down. I think it really cost us a lot because when people heard the album, they didn’t hear what I hoped they would hear.”
This time around Donna A. (vocalist Brett Anderson), Donna F. (bassist Maya Ford), Donna C. (drummer Tory Castellano) and Donna R. (Robertson) finally delivered an album with production muscular enough to back their boasts. Tinnitus-inducing tracks like “Do You Want to Hit It?” and “Midnight Snack” will tear through your speakers, and Ford’s “40 Boys in 40 Nights” details the casualties of the band’s appetite with a braggadocio worthy of any bare-chested, codpieced rocker of yore. And as with Get Skintight‘s cover of the Crue’s “Too Fast for Love,” the Donnas again declare where their loyalties lie with a version of Judas Priest’s “Livin’ After Midnight.”
Not that the band actually does much livin’ after midnight, of course.
“I think people would be sad to find out that when I’m not on tour I hang out my house — I’m a total homebody,” Robertson says. “I don’t go out to clubs, I don’t go out to rock shows unless my favorite band is playing and that’s rare. We are bad, we do break laws. But we’re really more about writing songs and touring than living the lifestyle.”